13/11/2017
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Fettercairn Jewel goes on display at National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

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An exceptionally rare Scottish Renaissance jewel has gone on permanent display at National Museum of Scotland.

The 16th century enamelled gold pendant locket is set with an almandine garnet and dates to c.1570-80. The 'exquisite work of art' is also a key to understanding the wider culture of the Scottish Renaissance.

The Fettercairn Jewel was recently acquired thanks to the Art Fund, The National Lottery and the National Museums Scotland Charitable Trust. The jewel is installed in the Kingdom of the Scots gallery at the Museum, on Edinburgh's Chambers Street. 

The acquisition of the Fettercairn Jewel

The pendant was sold at auction alongside numerous works of art and artefacts from the private collection of the Forbes family whose ancestral home is Fettercairn House in Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire. The Forbes of Pitsligo descend from Sir William Forbes, brother of Alexander Forbes, first Lord Forbes. Both branches were prominent, elite families in the 16th century. The first Lord Forbes married the granddaughter of King Robert II of Scotland and daughter of Douglas, earl of Angus.

The Jewel is oval in form with a scroll fastening at the top to hold a gold ring. It would have been worn as a pendant on a chain and probably had a pearl or precious stone hanging beneath it. The image on the reverse centres on the figure of Mercury, wearing a winged helmet and striding from left to right.

To the right of Mercury’s feet sits a white dog looking upwards, and to the left a vase containing a striking arrangement of vibrant flowers. An urban scene sits in the background, with an array of exotic and domestic birds and insects flying over clusters of buildings. The enormous rectangular almandine garnet on the front of the piece is set prominently amongst a decorative enamelled scheme to enhance its beauty.

Gift giving at the royal court

During the Scottish Renaissance there was a practice of extensive court gift-giving of jewellery and a vast amount of jewellery was gifted each year by the royal family to Scotland’s elite families. National Museums Scotland will investigate potential links between the Jewel and the Scottish royal court. It will also investigate the potential of its links to the Darnley Jewel, now in the Royal Collection, commissioned at some time between 1564 and 1571 by Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, for her husband Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox and Regent of Scotland, and owned by both Horace Walpole and Queen Victoria. It is possible that the Fettercairn Jewel was made by the same jeweller in Edinburgh.

National Museums Scotland has the best collection of Scottish Renaissance material in the world. The bulk of surviving material tends to be items produced in larger quantities, such as arms and armour, tableware and architectural fragments. Personal and individual objects are much rarer due to their bespoke production and their low survival rates. Jewellery is very rare as, historically, materials were re-used as time passed by; objects like the Fettercairn Jewel are almost unique.

500 years of history

David Forsyth, Principal Curator, Scottish History and Archaeology Department at National Museums Scotland said, 'I am delighted that this important object is now on display for our visitors to enjoy. It significantly enhances the national collections and offers the opportunity for new insights into the Renaissance period in Scotland. We are hugely grateful to the Art Fund and The National Lottery for making this important acquisition possible.'

Gillian Findlay member of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Scotland Committee added: 'This beautiful pendant has travelled intact through over 500 years of history. It will have been worn with pride and care by many interesting people through the centuries. I am delighted, that thanks to players of The National Lottery, we can continue to care for it and take pride in its heritage. It is sure to unlock some fascinating insights to Scottish Renaissance history.'

National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JF; tel: 0300 123 6789; website.

(image copyright National Museums Scotland)

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